« PreviousContinue »
1. As he is possessed of a better temper, adopts better maxims, and acts from better motives. By the temper of the heart, we mean that disposition, taste, or views, which generates all its moral actions, and gives them their character. We are born with evil tempers, and retain till the moment of the new birth, a taste, a relish, a bias, a propensity, to what is morally wrong, to what God hates and forbids. While this temper remains, disobedience is more pleasant than duty. A selfish, contracted, unpitying, unforgiving, and unrelenting disposition is drawn out in every moral action. The temper that lives within, reigns without, colors every deed, writes approved or disapproved upon every exertion that partakes of a moral character.
The work of grace begins with a change in this native bias of the soul. It becomes essentially altered so as to be pleased with that which displeased before, and disgusted with that which before gave pleasure. Hence the heart of the good man is inclined to order, mercy, justice, truth, honesty, holiness, and happiness. The feelings now generated are in unison with God, and with all holy beings.
Hence originate a set of principles or maxims, diametrically opposite to those which govern the unrenewed man.
Good men will naturally pursue a course that will gratify the temper of the heart. Hence the maxims or principles by which the life shall be governed, will correspond to the temper which the grace of God has generated. It was the maxim of the unregenerate man, that the promotion of his own interest, was a good to be pursued, although it might greatly injure the Church or the world; now, a smaller private good must yield to a greater public interest. Revenge was sweeter than forgiveness; now, forgiveness is an exercise that gives pleasure, while revenge gives pain. Retaliation appeared righteous and desirable, but is now a principle to the last degree odious and abominable. A deed of wrong, not discovered, was viewed as comparatively innocent, but a holy temper sees in sin, however secretly done, all the hatefulness that could attach to it when made public. It was felt that the things unseen are worthless, and that the present world has charms that belong to no other ; but when sanctified, faith discovers better treasures in the heavens than earth can afford. And thus every maxim that governed the life was inverted, when the heart was sanctified.
And this change in the temper, and in the principles of action, have led to an entire new set of motives. The good man loves God and his kingdom, and loves his fellow-men, and now often
acts against his own interest, when he can promote the glory of God, and the good of others. The things that used to move him in opposition to his own conscience, have now lost their influence. He considers it more important to act so as to approve of himself, than to promote his own interest. To be poor, and low, and of little credit, is of smaller moment than to be miserable when he retires to think.
Hence we can place in the man of piety more confidence, can feel a greater security that he will not, if occasion require, injure and betray us, than in his neighbor. If we need his aid, and have nothing to pay, if we are in his power, and have no escape, if our property or life is in his hand, there is smaller danger than when there is none but an unsanctified temper and selfish motives. Hence the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor."
II. He sets a better example, and exerts a better influence. Every man's life will correspond to the temper of his heart, and the maxims and motives that govern him. Hence, by their fruits ye shall know them. Men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles. It never happened that there was one principle in the heart, and another acted out in the life. When the whole conduct is minutely examined, every man is what he appears to be. The good man not only sets an example of industry, sobriety, honesty, and generosity, which perhaps he did before his heart was sanctified, but is conscientious, humble, watchful, prayerful, benevolent, and heavenly-minded. Whatever property of nature was excellent in him before his conversion, is now still more conspicuous, while many things in him are entirely new.
Grace improves the properties which it does not regenerate. If naturally honest, he will now be more scrupulous; if hospitable, or liberal, or modest, or industrious, he will now exhibit advancement in all these valuable endowments. His example in many points will be new and valuable, and worthy of imitation. Hence said the Savior, “Ye are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hid.” And again, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” To the full extent of his circle, his conduct has a salutary influence on all around him, restrains vice, enlightens the ignorant, and gives countenance to virtue.
Hence the influence he exerts is salutary, and deservedly enrols him among the world's benefactors, among the friends of God and of men. The poisoning influence of sin, whose tendency is to pollute and destroy, finds an antidote in the example of God's people, else this world would verge rapidly to ruin. Show me a district where there is no piety, and I will show you the effects of vice, in the prostration of every thing that is excellent.
And the good man exerts an influence, when he neither speaks nor acts. If his conversation is such as becomes godliness, the world takes knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus. And men of very loose morals, and whose consciences are fearfully diseased, will act differently, in any given circumstances, from what otherwise they would, because they know how the good man in similar circumstances, would act. Thus the man of godliness, the profession of whose lips, and the tenor of whose life are coincident, will exert a salutary influence even when he rests upon his bed. He may be as retired as he pleases, but a pattern will be taken of his life, and it will be handed round as a model after which men may form their characters, and shape the tenor of their life. But his ungodly neighbor exerts no such influence. At the best, he can boast of nothing more than a scanty morality, whose highest motive is self-love, and his most splendid actions honesty, sobriety, hospitality, and generosity.
III. He is more excellent, inasmuch as he is the subject of more honorable alliances. As there exists, between all the parts of God's holy kingdom, a close and endearing relationship, so each individual believer is united to God and to all holy beings by the best of all ties, that of a kindred affection. Every believer is permitted to address God as his father, and to approach him with the confidence which that title implies, while Christ is spoken of as his elder brother. He is attached to the family of heaven, to angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and will ever find a friend and brother in every holy being. And the covenant that binds the believer to God is everlasting. He never will be permitted to act so as to forget the privileges of that holy alliance that binds him to the whole family of pure beings.
Now as among men it uniformly attaches respectability and worth to one who can boast of high and honorable alliances, so the believer is entitled to whatever excellence may accrue to him from his union to the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier, and to the members of that holy family who shall at last gather about the throne and be seated at the supper of the Lamb. It is impossible not to derive worth, and honor, and beauty, from an intercourse so free, and a sympathy so endearing as that which is the happy destiny of the believer.
Now the unbeliever, however high may be his views of himself, and however shielded he may be in his own self-importance, and self-esteem, and self-respect, can boast of no such high and holy alliances. Said our Lord to a company of unbelievers, and through them to all others, Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning. Thus the sinner may claim his descent or rather may avow his adoption by a father who has lost his character with heaven, and has sunk to unspeakable ignominy, and must own as his brethren none but the outcasts of the moral world.
True, God was his Creator, and will ever have a right to his ser vice, but he has sold himself to commit iniquity, and has become the servant of sin; has forfeited all relationship to heaven and to all holy beings, and can derive no honor from any single alliance by which he is bound. The only covenant that holds him is a covenant with death, and from this union there attaches nothing to him but disgrace and infamy.
IV. He is more excellent, inasmuch as he has better enjoyments. He has a relish for higher pleasures. The unsanctified man extends his views to no objects but such as are seen and temporal. His best treasures are all perishable objects, objects which moths can eat, and rust corrupt, and thieves plunder. There is not an object on which he has set his heart that will be within his reach the first moment when he has quit the body, not one that will survive the ruins of the last day. And the objects he loves are as poor as they are perishing. While they abide they can furnish to their adorer but a poor, and scanty, and mean, and dying pleasure. He feels amid their highest enjoyments a distressing deficiency of happiness, and is a stranger to what deserves the name of enjoyment. But the good man sets his heart on objects which are,
in their nature, grand and imperishable. These objects are God and his kingdom. And the joy they yield him is solid and substantial. They lie beyond the influence of vicissitude, are of an unchanging nature, and will be equally within his reach when he is dead as while living. Hence he is said to have a joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not. As neither moth, nor rust, nor robber can touch his treasures, so nothing can diminish the joy they yield him. Hence he is prepared to meet, without horror or despair, those calamities which ruin, for ever, the man who has deposited all his treasures on earth. He can say: Although the fig tree
shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vine ; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” “When flesh and heart fail him, God is the strength of his heart, and his portion for ever.” And what a worth do such rich enjoyments attach to their possessor! His vast capacity of happiness is partially filled. He not only lasts, but lives—and the life he lives bears some relation to the blessedness of heaven. Hence the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor.
V. He entertains richer hopes. Give the impenitent all they hope for, and their enjoyments would be poor. They can hope for no enjoyments, entirely distinct in their nature, from any they have ever felt. Hence their richest hopes, even the heaven they hope for, extends to no other than perishing and unsatisfying pleasures. Give them even the full extent of their wishes, give them the best objects, and all the objects they have ever loved, and let the possession be permanent, and still they would necessarily be poor. Their affections have never extended to any but material objects, and of course to none but dying objects.
But the good man, while he enjoys at present better pleasures than any other, entertains also richer hopes. The things unseen attract his gaze, and he counts among his choicest treasures the blessings that are in reserve for him beyond the grave. He would feel himself to be poor if he could fear that he were enjoying his best things now. He believes, and his “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
He is so comforted by the expectation of future good, that he can endure the loss of all those good things on which the impenitent place their supreme affections. Hence, in the present world, he becomes a pilgrim and a stranger, and seeks a city to come, which hath foundation, whose builder and maker is God. He is not dependant on this poor world for his enjoyments, nor will be ruined when all its treasures shall be consumed in the conflagration of the last day. His hopes, even in the darkest hour, enter within the veil, and he there discovers resources of blessedness that can never be exhausted.
VI. The righteous is better than his neighbor, inasmuch as he is the heir of a better destiny. The heirs of glory and the children of wrath resemble each other more now than they ever will hereaf